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14 phrases you need to know about climate change

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The EU has declared a climate emergency and hardly a day goes by where it’s not mentioned in the news. Many people are experiencing varying levels of eco-anxiety and it can be difficult to understand the terms and buzzwords in the media.

We’re hearing many acronyms being applied to climate change and the war on plastic, so to help you decipher an NGO from the WCC or the IPCC, here are fourteen phrases you need to know ahead of COP 26 in November, when we’ll be hearing a lot more on what the world has to do to tackle this global climate emergency.

1. Climate change

Google climate change and there are more than 959 million searches for it. It’s in the news everyday as the EU has declared a climate emergency.

Climate change is described as a pattern of change affecting global or regional climate, as measured by average temperature and rainfall, and how often extreme weather events like heatwaves or heavy rains happen. Climate change may be caused by both natural processes and by humans.

2. Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  

COP 26 is the phrase which refers to the forthcoming climate change talks taking place in Glasgow, Scotland later this year. COP stands for Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This will be the first time a COP summit has been held in the UK and is the 26th event.

3. Single-use plastic

Single-use plastics, often also referred to as disposable plastics, are commonly used for plastic packaging and include items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These include, among other items, grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups, coffee stirrers, contact lenses and cutlery.

4. Microplastics

Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimetres long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life. Plastic debris can come in all shapes and sizes, and microplastics are about the size of a sesame seed. Microplastics pose a threat to marine life and animals can easily mistake the pieces for food. Primary microplastics include microbeads, nurdles and fibres from clothing. UV rays, wind and wave action causes pieces of plastic to fragment into millions of smaller pieces.

5. Carbon footprint

The amount of carbon emitted by an individual or organisation in a given period of time, or the amount of carbon emitted during the manufacture of a product or delivery of a service.

6. Carbon neutral

A process where there is no net release of CO2.  As an example, growing biomass takes CO2 out of the atmosphere,  and whilst burning it releases the gas again. However the process would be carbon neutral if the amount taken out and the amount released were identical. A company or country or person can also achieve carbon neutrality by means of carbon offsetting.

7. Emissions

Emissions are any release of gases such as carbon dioxide which cause global warming, a major cause of climate change. These emissions can be small-scale in the form of exhaust from a car or methane from a cow, or larger-scale such as those from coal-burning power stations and heavy industries.

8. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

This term applies to organizations that are not part of a governmental structure. They include environmental groups, research institutions, business groups, and associations of urban and local governments. Many NGOs attend climate talks as observers. To be accredited to attend meetings under the Convention, NGOs must be non-profit.

9. Feedback loop

In a feedback loop, rising temperatures on the Earth change the environment in ways that affect the rate of warming. Feedback loops can be positive (adding to the rate of warming), or negative (reducing it).

10. Global warming

Global warming is an informal term used to describe climate change caused by humans. The steady rise in global average temperature in recent decades, which experts  believe is largely caused by human-produced, greenhouse gas emissions. The long-term trend continues upwards, scientists say, even though the warmest year on record, according to the UK's Met Office, is 2016.

11. Geo-engineering

Geo-engineering is any technology that could be used to halt or even reverse climate change and can include extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it underground or solar radiation management. From planting continent-long forests to inducing rainfall, researchers have begun proposing, testing, and in some cases implementing large-scale geoengineering projects to radically transform the planet. These projects are designed to solve problems such as desertification, drought, or excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, all with the ultimate goal of combating climate change.

12. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC )

The IPCC is a scientific body established by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization. Its role is to examine and assess the latest scientific research into climate change. Its report in 2018 warned that the rise in global temperatures should be limited to 1.5C to avoid dangerous impacts.

13. Runaway climate change

Sir David Attenborough has mentioned this term in a number of his speeches and media interviews. These terms refer to how climate change may suddenly get worse after passing a "tipping point", making it even harder to stop or reverse. In 2018, the aforementioned IPCC said that global emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030, and to net zero by 2050 to have a 50% chance of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C this century.

14. World Climate Conference

The WWC is a series of international meetings, organized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), about global climate issues, principally global warming in addition to climate research and forecasting.

Want to know more? Visit BBC News and the UN website also has a full glossary of terms.


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